Betting on college, pro games, horse races could be coming to Cherokee casinos

April 5, 2019

Wagering on college and professional sports and on horse races would become legal at casinos run by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in western North Carolina under a proposal state lawmakers are considering.

Senate Bill 154 is expected to go before the full Senate next week.

Sports wagering has become more widespread since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a law prohibiting states from legalizing it. Off-track betting on horse races was tacked on to the bill in a Senate committee last week.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, said the bill “doesn’t expand the geography of gaming” in the state but would bring an estimated $14 million in additional revenue to the Cherokee tribe. That would generate another $1 million in revenue for the state, he added.

Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, said the Cherokee asked for the change after the Supreme Court ruling. The tribe is a sovereign nation and has the right to do what it wants, he said.

“I’d be opposed to expanding gaming anywhere in North Carolina and others, but I do recognize who the tribe is – what they are – and it’s been a great impact to western north Carolina. But at the same time, they get to deal with the consequences of the choices they make.”

Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said he’s worried the change could lead to more casinos because they’d be more profitable. For example, the Catawba Tribe in South Carolina wants to build a casino on land it owns near Charlotte.

″[U.S.] Sen. Lindsay Graham, Sen. [Richard] Burr, Sen. [Thom] Tillis are pushing for that, for an outside tribe to come in buy land in North Carolina and set up their own gambling establishment,” Sanderson said. “I think that, if that were to go through, we have laid a foundation for a lot of tribes to come in and do the same thing.”

Sanderson, who doesn’t support gambling, pointed out bills have also been filed to make sports betting legal in North Carolina in general.

“I don’t know how the General Assembly is going to justify allowing it to happen in one section of the state, even though it’s Indian land, and not allow it to happen all across the state,” he said.

John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, made the same argument to two Senate committees, saying legalizing sports betting at the Cherokee casinos would engender more problem gambling and would create a slippery slope that would eventually lead to legalized wagering statewide.

The Cherokee casinos already offer live poker, slot machines and video-style games.